Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

No easy answers to Mac's dilemma

I thought I'd set you a little task this week. Let's imagine YOU have been put in charge of selecting the England team for next month's European Championship qualifiers.







Now, nothing's certain of course but you should take it as read that Gary Neville, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves and Wayne Rooney are all available after injury.

Do you pick all, most or none of them to face Estonia?



I might occasionally (okay, frequently) criticise managers but no one says their job is easy!

And that is precisely the dilemma in front of Steve McClaren at the moment.

Having harangued the England coach it's only fair that I should applaud him over his handling of the last week.

We can argue how much of it came about by design, and how much by accident, but it's beyond question that England looked a 'team' against Israel and Russia for the first time in a long while.

No, they haven't suddenly become world-beaters but the side looked both balanced and threatening to the opponents: two games, two wins, six goals scored and none conceded.

So, do you change it?

Since I described the return of Emile Heskey as a "desperate" ploy by McClaren, I declare myself guilty.

Heskey was outstanding in both games.

I know he can still barely hit a barn door with his shooting but does that matter?

Michael Owen has scored 14 goals in the last 14 games he's started for England in company with Heskey.

If they'd each scored seven in that period we'd be lauding their international partnership.

So what if Heskey's scored none?

I'm not sure, though it seems likely, that it was Owen's idea rather than McClaren's but I can't see how the coach can now dump the Wigan striker.

Yet, I accept it's inconceivable . . . well, almost . . . to have an England team without a fit Rooney in it.

With the possible exception of Steven Gerrard, there's no finer England player.

For the moment, I'd be tempted to ask Rooney to replace Joe Cole on the left side.

Cole impresses me far less than my colleagues in the media and Rooney has performed in that role for Manchester United.

Why not for his country?

Moving on, Gareth Barry was even more impressive in those Wembley games than Heskey.

He dovetails beautifully with Gerrard. For me, it's always been Lampard OR Gerrard, not the two playing alongside one another, and I go with the Liverpool player.

Hargreaves, likewise, should have to wait for an injury or loss of form.

I've said before that Beckham should never have been recalled and that Shaun Wright-Phillips must be given a proper opportunity.

He has and he's taken it.

Micah Richards, too, makes the return of Gary Neville far less important.

Star players don't always make star teams. Jack Charlton once suggested to Sir Alf Ramsey his surprise that he was in the England side ahead of others.

The manager responded: "I don't pick the best players, I pick the best team."

And, if the Rooney 'problem' is uppermost in McClaren's mind, he should ask himself: "If I pick a better player alongside Owen, will I get a worse result?"

What would you do?

A Wembley wasteland

Wembley is a beautiful stadium but it's encased in a dump.

When the old ground was pulled down, everyone was assured that the phoenix that would arise in its ashes would be surrounded by beauty - or, at least, an infrastructure that would sit comfortably alongside "the best stadium in the world."

It hasn't happened. The area around Wembley is a wasteland.

And while I berate spectators who leave the ground early - I've never really got 'that' anywhere - I have to accept they may have good reason.

It could be that, for a night game, they might want to get home before three in the morning!

My World Service producer was at the Russian match and left twenty minutes before the end to "beat the rush."

He still had to run down Wembley Way with hundreds of others and wait thirty minutes on an over-crowded platform before he was whisked away to safety on the tube.

It's the Wembley 'experience'.

And don't even ask about driving there!

Sven has answered critics

I have a 'local' weekend ahead.

It's Everton v Manchester United Saturday lunchtime and then Manchester City against Aston Villa tomorrow afternoon.

I'm especially looking forward to the match at Eastlands - no one seems to call it the City of Manchester Stadium anymore.

City fans could hardly believe their team's start to the season and neither could I.

Though I wasn't amongst those who belittled Sven Goran Eriksson's status as a club manager because of his relative under-achievement with England, I was surprised at how well he'd pulled together a host of new signings, most of them foreign, and forged a table-leading team.

Reality may have stepped in a little bit now and Aston Villa, fresh from their excellent win against Chelsea, represent a significant hurdle.

But I think, provided City supporters aren't too demanding, they can expect a top-10 finish this season which is a lot better than last.

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